Whitmer extends Michigan's COVID-19 emergency through Sept. 4

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has extended her order declaring a state of emergency through Sept. 4, allowing her to keep intact COVID-19-related powers that were set to expire Tuesday.

By Sept. 4, the state of emergency will have been in place for 178 days or almost half of the year.

The new deadline falls two days after the Michigan Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on whether the governor has the power to extend an emergency declaration indefinitely without the approval of the Legislature. 

"I will continue to use every tool at my disposal to protect Michiganders from the spread of this virus," Whitmer said in a statement. "I want to remind everyone in Michigan to wear a mask, practice safe physical distancing and do everything in your power to fight COVID-19.” 

The declaration allows the Democratic governor continued authority to issue the executive orders that have created the framework for the state's coronavirus-restricted activity in recent months.

Whitmer has issued a total of 166 executive orders since the start of the pandemic on March 10, when Michigan announced its first two confirmed cases of coronavirus. The continued state of emergency is the 165th executive order. 

The decision to extend the state's emergency declaration was opposed by Republican legislative leaders. 

"Much like many other Michiganders, the majority leader is frustrated by the governor's decision to continue to extend the state of emergency with no data or information," said Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake. 

Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun said Wednesday the state had started to plateau again after an uptick in cases in June and July, but Whitmer noted the cases still were high enough to merit an extension of the emergency. 

Daily case counts in July across the state exceeded an average of 50 cases per million people, Whitmer said. And the state's test positivity rate rose from 2% in mid-June to 3.5% in late July. Nationally, the positivity rate is about 9%. 

Deaths and hospitalization in Michigan have remained relatively low, even as cases rose in June and July, compared to peak hospitalization and death numbers in March and April. 

Michigan recorded 762 new cases and no additional deaths from the novel coronavirus Friday. The state's overall case tally reached 86,191 and the death count hit 6,247, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. When probable cases are included, the death tally is 6,506 and cases total 94,656.

A Michigan Court of Claims judge ruled in May that Whitmer had the authority to extend an emergency without legislative approval under at least one of Michigan's emergency laws. 

The Republican-led Legislature and the governor appealed the ruling to the state Court of Appeals, which heard oral arguments Tuesday on the case. Assuming an appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the case Sept. 2. 

Also on Friday, Whitmer issued a 166th executive order prohibiting employers from firing or disciplining employees who stay home after having close contact with individuals infected by the coronavirus. The order appears to be similar to a protection that had been issued by Whitmer earlier in the pandemic. 

Under current rules, anyone who tests positive for the virus or experiences symptoms is required to stay home for 24 hours after his or her fever has broken or 10 days after first symptoms. 

Whitmer said she ordered the new protections for workers in recognition of the added pressures people have to return to work — even if they are symptomatic — because of the end of the federal government's extra $600-a-week unemployment benefit. 

“As we have re-engaged sectors of our economy, and in turn put thousands of Michiganders back to work, it is still vital that employees feel empowered to make the right choice to say home if they, or someone they have been in contact with is sick," the governor said.